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WWII fighter pilot flies one last mission

DENVER -- World War II veteran Francis Robert "Frank" Royal made a fateful trip to the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs.

"Having had a life long interest in flying, I had to come see what they had."

Royal served as a squadron commander of the 39th Pursuit Squadron, 5th Army Air Corps in Papua New Guinea. He flew the P-38 Lockheed Lightning in combat. The Germans called it the fork-tailed devil, "It was a real God send. From a pilot's standpoint it was great," Royal said.

So there it was, in the museum.  A P-38 just like the one Royal flew in combat.

But then, something very special happened. Against all odds Royal realized that he was once again reunited the the very plane he flew in New Guinea. "It was quite a thrill."

The plane eventually was fully restored, with the original markings still in place, White 33. The fighter once again took to the blue at the Colorado Springs Airport. This time Royal was in a chase plane, flying alongside as a passenger.

After the flight, Royal said he has one more mission to go, "I'm going on my last flight. As of last week I've been put in hospice."

At a hundred and one years old and a widower, Royal said he missed his wife Norene and the men he flew with who never made it back.

On Saturday, with son Randy holding his hand, Frank Royal slipped the surly bonds of earth, "He's back there with all his old pilot buddies swapping stories and talking about lost times," Randy said.

On 19 November 2016, Frank Royal traded one set of wings for another.